Written by Phil Cerroni
By Elaine Paniszczyn
Gasoline prices went up this week at least in part because Hurricane Isaac disrupted oil production in the Gulf of Mexico. Regardless of the price of gasoline, the state of Texas still collects only 20 cents tax per gallon, just as it has since 1991. Five cents of that goes to education and 15 cents goes to the highway fund.
“The general public doesn’t realize that despite the price of gas, the state government isn’t getting any more money,” said State Representative Joe Pickett (D) from El Paso, who serves on the Texas Transportation Counsel in Austin. “It is a fixed rate, and it is declining.”
Pickett said that individuals pay an average of $9.54 a month on gas tax right now in Texas, but that in 1991 they were paying a little over $12 a month, and in 2016, they will be paying an average of $6 a month for gas tax. He also said the public is not prepared to believe those facts because of all the construction they see around their roadways.
“Most people do not understand how all that works or where all the money for those projects comes from,” Pickett said. “This is reality; it’s not somebody playing with numbers. We’re buying cars that get better gas mileage. We’re planning out our trips better, and we’re driving less.”
In the Dallas Metroplex, which has the longest light rail system in the United States, locals are starting to change the way they choose to go to work, out to eat, and to entertainment venues. Statistics show that DART ridership is up over seven percent in the last year, and households can save approximately $9,500 a year by taking public transit instead of driving cars.
“There are posters around Texas that say ‘Dump the pump. Quit buying gas. Take mass transit,’” Pickett said. “Mass transit lives off gas tax. The public is getting mixed messages: ‘Don’t use gasoline, take mass transit,’ but 2.86 percent of the federal gas tax being collected per gallon is going for mass transit.
“We’re at a crossroad,” Pickett said. “We have a crisis. We’re about to run out of money for transportation infrastructure.”
Most everything costs more today than it did 25 years ago, but the gas tax has not been increased since 1991.
“So why is it when people talk about increasing gas tax, we have a problem?” Pickett asked. “Because it’s called ‘tax.’
“Twenty cents gas tax is collected on every gallon, 15 cents goes to the highway fund, and 5 cents goes to public education. I would love to have a vote on whether we need to keep sending that 5 cents to public education.”
Pickett said he supports public education whose budget, including property taxes, is $52 billion a year.
“TxDot’s is just a drop in the bucket compared to that,” Pickett said. “That nickel could give us a shot that I think we could use that public education could absorb.”
He said that would mean $500 million less for education.
In the last legislative session, State Representative Linda Harper-Brown (R) from Irving proposed a bill that would let the public vote on whether or not to give the entire 20 cent gasoline tax to the transportation fund.
“Transportation is a driver in our economy, and we have to realize how important it is to the entire state,” Harper-Brown said. “We would put the money back in; it would not reduce the funding going to education. It would just be that we would take that money out of the general revenue instead of taking the gas tax portion of it for that.
“It has to go to the people. All we were asking is, let’s send it to the people and ask them if we could do that with the idea that we would replace it out of general revenues. Then the gas tax would be dedicated solely to transportation.”
2014 and beyond
“After 2014 there is no more money in the state of Texas to build new roads,” said State Representative Larry Phillips, Chairman of Texas State Transportation Committee. “Our funding sources are not keeping up with our needs. The population is growing: 1,000 to 1,500 people a day are coming to Texas because of the jobs here and the weather.”
More people mean more wear and tear on Texas highways and more congestion.
“The average Texas commuter spends 30 hours a year stuck in traffic which results in an annual cost to drivers of $928,” Phillips said. “The total cost of traffic congestion to the state economy in terms of delay and excess fuel exceeds $10 billion annually. If we do not address our transportation needs within the next 25 years, the average commuter will spend an average of 140 hours a year delayed in traffic, and the delay cost will rise to $3,300 in today’s dollars.
“In 2035 the cost of congestion to the state as a whole will exceed $63,000 in today’s dollars. If we just spend like we do now, the increased use and congestion will cost us in excess of $1.1 trillion over the next 25 years.”
Some say that increasing vehicle registration fees is the answer to increasing funds for the transportation fund.
“Vehicle registration fees bring in about $2.5 billion,” Phillips said. “The tax per car is $62.75 on average. Some states have a property tax on vehicles. In Connecticut an average car is paying $1,100 in property tax above a $62.50 registration fee. They have a gas tax rate of 25 cents. The total fee is $1,348.
“New Hampshire’s vehicle tax is $258 besides their registration fee of $43.20.
“We have to deal with the gasoline tax,” Phillips said. “The gasoline tax is a problem, not because it’s too low, necessarily, but because it’s declining. We have to have a national conversation about how we are going to replace that in the near, mid and long term.”
“There are a lot of dollars that don’t go into transportation that are transportation related,” Harper Brown said. “Many of our fees and taxes that are direct transportation charges go into the general revenue funds. We are looking at those and are looking at ways to dedicate those for transportation. We have a lot of opportunities before us, and we are probably going to be looking into this in our next legislative session.”
Last Updated on Sunday, 09 September 2012 17:44
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Amanda Casanova
A split school board has decided to continue paying $50,000 to the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce for “promotional and developmental” purposes.
The Irving Independent School Board voted 4-3 for the partnership. Trustees Jerry Christian, Gwen Craig, Ronda Huffstetler and Valerie Jones voted in favor of the partnership. Steven Jones, Larry Stipes and Gail Conder Wells voted against the resolution.
Under the agreement with the school district, the Chamber provides marketing services for the district. Superintendent Dana Bedden estimated the district has gained about $400,000 in products and services through the partnership.
But trustees disagreed over how effective the partnership is for the school district and whether earmarking the money for the Chamber is best.
“I cannot support this $50,000 payment to the Chamber,” trustee Steven Jones said. “I do realize we’re saving money, but I don’t think we should be using taxpayer money to buy tables at State of the City (address) and Chamber functions. I just don’t think it’s the best use of taxpayer funds.”
Stipes agreed, arguing that Bedden didn’t need help “getting an audience” with company executives and other officials to promote the district.
Other trustees, however, said the agreement helped to positively promote the school district and increase the visibility of the school system.
“I do sense a great responsibility to spend money responsibly,” Valerie Jones said. “We get more than our money’s worth from this. Before the partnership, we were probably spending this much or more in piecemeal amounts.
“All this does is package it and make it more transparent,” she added.
Bedden called the return on investment “huge.”
Joy Goodrum, the director of education and workforce development for the Chamber, said the Chamber has gone “above and beyond to ensure the attributes of it are being shared.”
Goodrum manages the Leadership Irving-Las Colinas and Future Leaders of Irving programs and Chamber University, which promotes development and training programs to boost local economic growth.
Last Updated on Sunday, 09 September 2012 17:42
Written by Phil Cerroni
Irving Flood Control District Section
The proposed rate represents a one half of one cent increase from the 13.4 cents per $100 valuation that had been levied for the current 2011-2012 fiscal year. This modestly increased tax rate allows for funding of capital improvements in the District’s emergency power system at the pump station. It follows a year in which the board was able to enact short term reductions in both operating and capital expenses, according to IFCD 3 board President Kim Andres.
“During this past fiscal year, IFCD 3 paid off a small remaining balance on the District’s Series 1990 bond issue, and was able to appropriately redirect a fund balance associated with this concluded bond program to fund several capital projects without any borrowing activities. Taken together, these actions had resulted in a substantial reduction in the funding required for 2011-12 and a corresponding reduction in the 2011-12 tax rate, compared to the previous 2010-11 fiscal year,” said Andres. “The need to move into the next phase of updating the electrical system at the pump station, including the addition of back-up electrical generation capabilities, suggests that District advance a budget which can be achieved by the one half of one cent increase in the tax rate. The pump station improvements are a multi-year project; we anticipate these electrical system updates to be completed in fiscal year 2013-14.”
The proposed 13.9 cent per $100 valuation tax rate will be on the agenda for adoption at the Sep. 10 meeting of the IFCD 3 board, to be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Cimarron Recreation Center. The 2013 IFCD 3 fiscal year runs from Oct. 1, 2012 through Sep. 30, 2013.
Source: Irving Flood Control District Section
Last Updated on Sunday, 09 September 2012 17:42
Written by Phil Cerroni
The Japanese American Society’s cultural exchange effort
By Phil Cerroni
Going to a foreign country can be exciting and disorienting at the same time, especially if you do not know the language. This is the experience Japanese students had when they visited Dallas with the Japanese American Society during which they experienced a full battery of American classics like baseball, barbecue, and, yes, the Boy Scout Museum.
Since the 1990’s, the Japanese American Society has been bringing Americans to Japan and vice versa. This spirit of cultural exchange is not new, however. It has its roots in the misty era of the shogunate in Japan.
In 1870, a whaling ship under the command of Captain Whitfield rescued five stranded Japanese sailors from a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean. One of these sailors, a teenager named John Manjiro, stayed on with Whitfield for the remainder of the voyage and in Massachusetts for ten years after that. After his stay in the United States, Manjiro returned home to the economically and socially closed Japan where he pushed the Shogun government to open its doors to western powers and was instrumental in their favorable reception of Commodore Perry.
Ever since Manjiro's stay in the United States his family and Whitfield’s family have stayed in communication with each other. The Japanese American Society’s efforts celebrate this historic friendship.
Sharon Rose, one of the summit’s organizers, explained why grassroots events like this are so important.
“Many times people want to do business in other countries, but they don’t take the time to really get to know the people or the culture. That’s one of the failings of American business people when they go abroad,” Rose said. “The Japanese will stick with you for a long time through the ups and downs if they have that relationship built. However many Americans want you when it’s up, and when it’s down we turn and go get somebody else. So the grassroots exchange is really important, because you get to know the people in their settings.”
The summit is not simply an economic relations tour, however. Rose was adamant that the summit is not merely utilitarian.
“It’s not business exchange or anything else, it’s come learn our culture, make a few friends, get to know us,” she said.
The DFW area held many cultural surprises for the Japanese visitors. If many Americans’ view of Japan is formed by the films of Akira Kurosawa, the Japanese teens admitted that when they thought of Texas, they had images about cowboys and Indians on their minds.
One of these was the “Texas portion” they had at Billy Bob’s in Forth Worth during the summit’s opening ceremonies.
“What a big amount Americans can eat,” said Takemi Wade, a chaperone for the trip and freelance translator in Japan. “They kept eating, eating, eating – we couldn’t believe it. Actually, the first time I told the students we’re going to have a big barbecue, they went ‘Wooo!’ but they ate too much and the next day they don’t want to see meat anymore,” she continued with a laugh.
An interesting but unexpected draw for the Japanese is the Texas Rangers, more specifically Japanese player Yu Darvish.
“We’re really interested in playing baseball and Yu Darvish is our dream,” said Gaku, an avid fan and baseball player himself.
The Texas Rangers even sponsored a Japanese Youth baseball team to come over to Dallas and organized a game between them and a local youth team.
As the teens are beginning their first foray into international exchange, Wada took some time to relate the start of her exposure, which began with her love for American films.
“When I was a kid, our town had one small movie theater, and that was our only leisure, and I really loved watching movies,” Wada said. “I started thinking I want to learn English,” and she did it by listening to conversation tapes and watching movies.
And if the teens have already noticed some of the differences between our cultures, Wada has experienced many more.
“In Japan, one of the virtues is to withhold our opinion,” she said. “To voice our individual opinion is not liked, so all schools teach students to be the same as others. We wear the same uniforms, same opinions – stereotypes. In Japan, for example, when you watch a movie, and you ask your friends how they liked it, nobody will start the conversation. Someone says the movie was good, everyone will say ‘it’s good, it’s good,’ but in American it’s very different. People can voice their opinions very freely. I really like that culture,” continued Wada.
This year’s participants have a very different view of the exchange experience because they are from parts of Japan that were devastated by last year’s tsunami and earthquake.
“I lost my house and my parents from the last year’s disaster,” said Wada sadly. “We lost all hopes and desires at that time, but thanks to supporters from all over the world and especially from the United States, now we think we can recover little by little again.”
It was seemingly banal things like swimming that the boys were looking forward to most.
“I’m interested in swimming in the river because we are all from affected areas of East Japan so we cannot go to the sea – it’s a little bit frightening,” said Gaku. “We’re a little bit scared, but we want to go into the water and swim because we are prohibited in the affected area.”
The summit not only gave participants an exciting time during their trip to Dallas, but also sparked a desire to foster more cultural exchange.
“On this trip I am standing on the receiving side so I’m interested in learning English, because I want to share this experience with not only Japanese people, but I want to share Japanese cultures with the people here,” said Hiroto, another one of the Summit’s participants. “When I go back to Japan I want to start English conversation study, and then I want to be involved in more exchanging of activities.”
Even though the summit will move to another city next year, this year’s participants have been given a taste of American and Dallas hospitality that they are not likely to forget.
“I’m very impressed by Texas culture,” said Wada. “I’ve been to some cities in the Untied States, but especially in Texas people are very nice. Food is very good and the landscape is very beautiful, and I love Texas already.”
Last Updated on Sunday, 09 September 2012 17:41
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
Melanie Heitzman traveled from Verizon on Aug. 31 to make a prestigious award to a worthy Irving teen – Megan Elrod. The senior at Irving High School was honored with the ‘2012 Verizon Community Leader Award’ – one of only ten recipients in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Verizon accepts nominees from 250 schools and this year received 67 entries.
But first, reality intruded: festivities at the high school were interrupted by a prolonged fire drill. Hundreds of students spent several minutes outside, waiting patiently for the resumption of their football season’s first Pep Rally where Megan was to receive her award. When they finally got to jump, pound, yell and tumble, it shook the walls of the school gymnasium.
One of those doing the most jumping was the day’s honoree. Megan is an overall-wearing member of the school’s spirit squad, responsible for pumping up Tiger Fever.
“We’re so proud of Megan,” said grandmother Darlene Fleeman who attended the rally with Megan’s grandfather, Barry Fleeman. ”Not just her leadership skills but her grades – she’s always so positive. She’s in the top five percent of her class and has earned magna cum laude honors.”
The teen’s mother, Jennifer Elrod, added that Megan was chosen to participate this summer in Camp RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Award), another significant accomplishment.
Heitzman marveled as she watched the energetic teen.
“To win this award is a big deal,” she said. “The purpose of the award is to recognize achievements from outstanding students in the high school sports community. They’re viewed as leaders who display Verizon’s core values: integrity, respect, performance excellence and accountability. Academic excellence, yes, but we’re also looking for a well-rounded individual.”
Along with the prestige comes a cash award of $1,000 to be designated for the nonprofit, PTA or booster club of the winner’s choice. Megan’s gift goes to the school’s volleyball booster club to reflect her passion for the sport in which she has been an All-District, All-Academic player for the past two years. She also volunteers in coaching the sport for younger girls.
As Megan’s name was called, she turned to her mother and grandparents, gesturing that they should join her. Shaking their heads, they remained on the sidelines.
“This is her time to shine,” said Jennifer. “She worked for it.”
Last Updated on Sunday, 09 September 2012 17:40
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